Some of the most anticipated upcoming games for the Xbox 360 and PC weren't playable on the X06 show floor but were shown off by the developers in behind-closed-doors demos. Here's some quickie descriptions of the demos and some thoughts on what was shown:
Alan Wake: Developer Remedy shared lots of new information about this "psychological action thriller" (a term used by the developers to describe the game multiple times). The story, told rather clunkily through some Max Payne-style exposition, revolves around Wake, a writer who finds his life begins to mimic his best-selling novel. Grappling with insomnia in a rest clinic in the Pacific Northwest, he finds the line between his waking life and his nightmares begins to blur. The most striking feature graphically is the dynamic lighting, which casts soft shadows and glistens beautifully off everything from the trees to the water. The demo also showed off environmental effects with a quickly gathering storm that cast everything in eerie, somber tones. The demo ended with a thrilling chase by a glowing entity that took out all the electrical lights as it approached. Definitely one to watch for.
BioShock - Following up on the demo shown at E3, Irrational showed off a new area which again showed off the game's beautifully dark underwater environments. The developers emphasized the importance of using improvised attacks and abilities like teleportation against the lumbering, suited "Big Daddy" and the "Little Sister" he jealously protects. They also stressed the importance of moral choices in shaping the game experience -- as the demo fades out, our protagonist is busy deciding whether or not to beat a little girl with a wrench. Best moment: using telekenesis to throw a teddy bear into a fire and then using the flaming bear to set an enemy on fire. The demonstrator said they hope to "redefine the first-person shooter" and it looks like they just might.
Mass Effect - The game looks as pretty as ever, with convincing character animation and facial expressions, especially during the branching conversations. The developers showed off how the game map spans from a galaxy-sized Milky Way view down to individual planets, and mentioned that two separate players will likely take completely different paths through the game. A quick boss battle showed how squad placement commands can be used to set up a cross fire that emphasizes each character's particular abilities. Shows promise but the full scope was hard to gauge from the demo.